imageThe congregation at St. John’s Lutheran Church never backed away from their pastor when he was officially defrocked for being in a gay relationship. Nearly four years later, the Lutheran Church reversed the ruling on Tuesday.

Since the August 2006 decision based on a church policy that gay pastors had to remain celibate, the pulpit at Atlanta’s St. John’s was officially empty as far as the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America was concerned. ELCA investigated the men’s relationship and praised the work by Pastor Bradley Schmeling (photo), but was forced by the policy to withdraw him from the active roster after a hearing.

Tuesday’s press release details what happened back then.

The members of the Disciplinary Hearing Committee met from January 19-23 [2006] at the Sheraton Hotel at Colony Square, and heard testimony from ELCA spokespeople and from defense witnesses from St. John’s Lutheran Church, where Pastor Schmeling serves.

Schmeling’s congregation, which had thrown a celebratory party when first told about his commitment to Darin Easler, informed the bishop they were keeping him as their pastor, as they have done for the last three years.  No formal charges were filed against the congregation.

ELCA changed its policy on committed clergy relationships last year during a meeting of the Churchwide Assembly. The policy went into effect in April.

Schmeling’s partner, Darin Easler, left his former ELCA church in Minnesota for privacy reasons after coming out. He was later dropped from the clergy roster solely because of his committed relationship with Schmeling. He later gained ministerial standing in the United Church of Christ and serves as a chaplain and grief counselor in Atlanta.

Tuesday’s decision reinstates both men onto the ELCA roster.

“I am elated that St. John’s prayers for the unity and understanding of the Lutheran Church have been answered,” Schmeling says in the written statement.

Learn more about Schmeling and his congregation at StJohnsAtlanta.org.